Unintended Consequences

News just broke that Jussie Smollett has been indicted on felony charges for giving a false statement to the police regarding his racist and homophobic attack. The two men that were arrested previously claimed that Smollett paid them to attack him because Smollet had arranged hate letters to be sent to himself that contained “a white substance” and they were not getting enough attention by local and national media.

To a complete outsider and armchair psychiatrist, this looks like some kind of mania, so I’m going to go easy on him. I have a huge amount of sympathy for doing the wrong thing while not being able to see the world for what it really is. But having sympathy is not the same as thinking that he shouldn’t have consequences. Consequences are the only thing that really work in terms of forcing self-reflection.

Just because my actions created emotional issues and his created legal ones don’t have much weight with me. They are two sides of the same disastrous coin…. well, legal trouble creates emotional trauma, so in this case, the coin has landed on its edge and Smollet is looking down.

The main reason I believe this can be chalked up to mental illness is that he didn’t play this out to the end. Being such a public figure only increases the chances that he would get caught, because the case is automatically more high profile.

And past that, there are the consequences for the queer community at large, not that Smollett ever signed up to be any kind of poster boy, but to me, the unintended consequence is possibly less enlightened people regarding the plight of LGBT people will say that things in the United States aren’t that bad. This attack was rigged, so maybe others are, too.

I would argue that violence against gay men and transgender people is worse than it is for lesbians, statistically, because lesbians fly under the radar, due to the fact that most men think we’re cute and harmless, playtoys for their fantasies and not individuals with agency. There’s also the demeaning and insulting trope I run across frequently, that it’s cheating for straight women to sleep with other men, but women? That’s not cheating at all. That’s an opportunity.

I will never forget one of Kathleen’s friends taking us to a bar where the friend’s parents were drinking and the dad asked us to kiss in front of him. First of all, eww. Second of all, that’s your daughter’s friends. I wasn’t angry because he was drunk, but I was eager to leave because I was extremely nauseous.

So, my hope is that people do not write off emotional and physical violence toward our community, because it happens all the time. ALL THE TIME. We don’t need to make up threats, they’re already here. And with a conservative federal senate and even more conservative state congresses, the law isn’t often on our side. Before the indictment came out, I was reticent to believe that a black gay man would get a fair shake from the Chicago Police, anyway.

From what I have seen, the investigation looks fair, but surely you can see where I’m coming from based on past history.

It will be interesting to hear what Smollett has to say when he is ready to give a statement. I am willing to forgive him, but not to let him off the hook. Apologies must come with changed behavior. Otherwise, the apology is null and void. The intended and unintended consequences are going to be a ripple effect for a long time to come.

What happens when the next queer person is attacked? It’s only a matter of time. It could be happening right now. Are they going to be believed? Or will the echo of Smollett’s attack create more scrutiny than before?

I want to know that when I say something happened to me, that I will be given the benefit of the doubt immediately.

And so do all my brothers and sisters.

The Invisible Hand

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

-S. G. Tallentyre (Evelyn Beatrice Hall)

We are in a moral morass thanks to the SCOTUS ruling that a baker does indeed have the right not to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple due to religious beliefs. It would have been a totally different case had the baker just posted a sign that said, “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” and kept his mouth shut. But, he didn’t. He brought in the phrase through counsel that “decorating cakes is a form of art through which he can honor God and that it would displease God to create cakes for same-sex marriages.” Here’s where that gets tricky. It was masterful to bring in artistic expression…. probably the only reason that this became a SCOTUS case in the first place.

Let me be clear- these are the ramblings of my legal brain, after completing a course in Constitutional Law (in which I did very well) and becoming a paralegal in the state of Texas, which does not give me license to either claim understanding of Colorado law or dispense legal advice, but does prove that I understand rules of civil procedure. It has nothing to do with how I feel morally about being treated like a second class citizen. I am talking about jurisprudence, which often departs from morality.

The truth is that the ruling was sound. I’m sorry, it’s terrible, and it’s the truth. One paragraph in a news article regarding Kennedy’s opinion stands out to me, and apart from anything else, it is the question at issue on which the entire case rests:

Kennedy, the author of some of the court’s most important gay-rights rulings, began by explaining that the case involved a conflict between two important principles: on the one hand, the state’s power “to protect the rights and dignity of gay persons who are, or wish to be, married but who face discrimination when they seek goods or services”; and, on the other, the “First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.”

In that vein, I find for the baker as well. Again, artistic expression is key in this First Amendment ruling. It is also important to note that this case began before Kennedy’s landmark gay rights rulings occurred, so some of the ruling reflects being “grandfathered.” On the other hand, the state of Colorado did itself no favors:

The Court concluded that the [Colorado Civil Rights] Commission’s actions violated the State’s duty under the First Amendment not to use hostility toward religion or a religious viewpoint as a basis for laws or regulations. Under the facts of this case, the Court determined that Phillips’ religious justification for his refusal to serve Craig and Mullins was not afforded the neutral treatment mandated by the Free Exercise Clause.

This conversation is not over, but it does not begin and end with this SCOTUS ruling. It begins with the American population. An overwhelming majority of Americans support gay marriage, and, in fact, its sanctity. It is time for the hand of the market to reflect it. More powerful than any court decision is not giving money to businesses who discriminate against anyone, and to fight like hell for sexual orientation to become a state and federally protected class.

I understand both sides of the issue- wanting to correct a wrong, and also being skeptical of wanting to give a raging homophobe your money in the first place.

And if you are a liberally religious person, it is time to stand up and reclaim Jesus as your own. Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, so as theologian Jim Rigby proclaims, it cannot be essential to his teachings. I personally believe that because Jesus was all about widening the net of acceptance, he would be horrified at current Biblical literalism. As in all things, I could be wrong, but I doubt it. If we are to have true religious freedom in this country, the Religious Left needs to do more to make itself known- not that they are not fighting the good fight, but they do not have the clout, basically controlling an entire political party, of the Religious Right. It is not my goal for the Religious Left to control the Democratic Party, because I believe that separation of church and state should remain intact.

I do believe, however, in protesting all of the freedoms that the Religious Right says we should not enjoy, because they are trying to create a theocracy…. As in, you can have religious freedom as long as it’s the one we believe, too.

Never forget that we also have the right to fight like hell for freedom from religion, as well. Even as a liberal Christian, I am on board with this, because again, separation of church and state should remain intact. Religion can and should influence how we vote, but as a result of going into our closets to pray and meditate, not trying to subvert the entire political process.

We were warned a long time ago, and we didn’t listen:

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.

-Barry Goldwater

It has become so prevalent that the word “Christian” is associated with bigotry and literalism that it sometimes makes me sick to my stomach to admit I am one, because I don’t want to be lumped in with the uncompromising Word of God™ that needs no translation after thousands of years, becoming stagnant and not the ever-living document it was meant to be. For instance, I think that we are constantly adding to the Gospel, that our words are no less important than the ones set forth for us by the writers of the Old and New Testaments. They were just regular people, like us, who felt divine inspiration…. and not only that, it was a regional council in 1546 which resulted in the Canon of Trent.

Furthermore, the King James edition was specifically made to reflect the views of the Church of England, the basis for the Protestant church today. So think about all of those regular people we left out…. all of whom had something to say and weren’t deemed worthy of inclusion.

We all need to keep writing the Gospel of our lives, whether or not it is deemed officially worthy of inclusion, because even if we are not included in “canon,” it is already well-documented that it doesn’t matter. Someone else long ago threw out regular people’s truths because it didn’t line up with their beliefs…. but that doesn’t render them invalid.

Because if we’re going to talk about religious freedom and the government, it has to reflect the changes in our own lives, as well. My favorite stories are the ones in which Biblical literalists step into the light of inclusion, leaving behind the comfort zone that is only “thisbig,” due to the threat of hellfire and damnation…. or simply reaching out to someone unlike themselves after un-thinking that it is unpleasing to God.

The reality is that reaching out to people unlike yourselves is the entire point of the Gospel. For that part, there is no translation needed.

We have to prove it with our money. Few things speak louder than fear of losing money or going completely bankrupt because of discrimination. We may have to drag bigotry out of society kicking and screaming, but it is what needs to happen. We cannot rely on the courts to do it for us. Some things have to start with realizing what is true for us, and acting on it.

Sometimes, the invisible hand of God working in our lives coincides with the invisible hand of the free market. It can either be life-stifling or life giving.

You get to choose.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

When You Have to Take a Step Back

I am so tired of 2018.

I’m tired of people saying they’re SO liberal on LGBTQIA issues and then saying things like (paraphrasing), I don’t think this woman should have mentioned her wife in class because it’s a conversation I would like to have privately with my children at home…. but I belong to a liberal open and affirming church so I can’t2018-04-08 13_27_52-tired - Google Search possibly be construed as a bigot. In 2018, why is homosexuality something that has to be explained privately as if children don’t have enough agency to understand basic family constructs on their own? They’ve probably had classmates with same-sex parents since they were in kindergarten. By the time the asshat father I paraphrased got to his kids, they were probably eye-rolling because OMG. Gay people. I have to be prepared to see them out in the world. It’s not as if when queer people move into your neighborhood that spaceships land and little burritos walk out. For the love of Christ, literally.

I’m tired of Assad and his chemical attacks and his bombing of the people he’s supposed to serve. I’m sure he doesn’t see it that way, but the best rulers lead from the back. I’m tired of wondering if our military, our diplomats, and our intel operatives and their friendlies are safe or fighting for their lives as equally hard as Syrian citizens. I’m tired of American attitudes that our people’s lives are worth more than theirs.

I’m tired of Donald Trump and his Twitter foreign and domestic policy, but I’ll bet I’m way less tired than the people trying to reign him in.

I’m tired of journalists, bloggers, and media influencers being put on a list, not knowing what the information is for, but know that nothing good can come of this. I’m tired that every single story President Trump reads is deemed fake, as if “The Fourth Estate” isn’t supposed to do their damn jobs. I’m exhausted thinking that both Helen Thomas and Molly Ivins are dead and there’s no one being as loud as they would be if they knew what was happening. I am happiest picturing Helen Thomas flipping the bird.

I am tired of black people dying for absolutely no reason, and the chutzpah cops have in shooting someone eight times in the back, because they know there’s no penalty. Not all cops are bad, but the ones that are aren’t being punished nearly enough.

I am tired of children having to ask for help with gun control and it being this huge debate, as if adults aren’t the ones in charge of keeping them safe. I am sure that for gun freedom advocates, it will take their own child being shot in math class to change those hearts and minds. It is not, however, something I would wish on them. No parent should ever have to bury a child. It is only an observation that it takes a truly earth-shattering realization to change someone vehemently entrenched in the position that all people should be able to own firearms in which the Founding Brothers never could have conceived.

I’m tired of angry rants on Facebook that come up in my feed whether I’m looking for negativity or not…. that even discourse that starts off as civil ends up being monstrous. I will engage in politics, but at the first sign of an ad hominem attack, I’m out. This is both because I don’t need that temperature in my life, and second because when I play “Let’s Be an Asshole,” I am in it to win it. I am just not interested in seeing that version of myself, because it’s egocentric and therefore, absolutely toxic. There is no exhaustion worse than being tired of listening to yourself.

I am tired of having to be this version of me, the one that has to stand up for all the little people, because the majority doesn’t understand that they don’t get to dictate to the minority what hurts and what doesn’t.

I am tired of thinking that it will be this way my entire life, because society won’t progress far enough to accept everyone by the time I die…. but, I hope so.

2045: Martians are so eloquent…… I want to touch their skin just to see what it feels like….

I wish we could all step back and take a breath, but it seems as if when we do, it’s not a matter of learning to listen to each other, but thinking about what we’re going to say next. I am certainly not immune to this…. but in a lot of ways, I can’t breathe under the best of circumstances. One of my tribe was just fired for simply showing a photograph of her family. It’s just not possible for me to contain rage over it, although I try to put a smile on my face even when I want to scream, as I often do when I wake up to news that transgendered people have been shot, most of them to death.

And some of the time, it’s by people who claim they live and let live.

I’m tired of the marijuana debate, and not because I’m all excited about smoking it. I don’t. I’m tired of violence at the border and inequality in sentencing when minorities get caught smoking and/or selling. White boys will be boys, but scary black men are going to prison for life.

I’m tired of the immigration debate, the back and forth between enjoying cheap tomatoes and the gate should have closed after I came in. You don’t want to give minimum wage and health care benefits to full-time farm workers, but you don’t want to welcome people that will do the job for peanuts, either…. surprised that after immigrants have been deported that fruits and vegetables are withering on the vine.

I’m tired of people still harping on Hillary Clinton as if she’s been elected to anything or even has a public life anymore. I mean, she’ll always be well-known, but she’s not influencing public policy. She doesn’t even have an advice column. Have a Coke™ and a smile and shut it.

I’m tired of people going bankrupt over medical bills, especially when they’re shot or otherwise injured through no fault of their own. I am sure there are people who were gunned down at the Pulse night club (and lots of schools) who now have to pay for the “privilege.” We are one of the richest nations in the world, yet most of us tied to jobs with golden handcuffs as not to lose insurance. Other countries have so much more freedom than we do because their people are allowed to move freely and take any job they want because insurance is not dictated privately or state-by-state.

Most of all, I’m tired that we claim all people are created equally, but some are just a little more equal than others.

Transitioning

I have two friends that are transitioning from one gender to another, after a long battle with gender dysphoria. Both are older adults who are just now experiencing their real adolescence. One is FTM, the other is MTF. It is gravity’s rainbow (in a terrific way) from two different directions, crossing in the middle. I love how one is discovering makeup and hair while the other discovers how uncomfortable beard stubble can be (but loves even the uncomfortable parts because it’s a daily reminder of how his body is changing). They also live in disparate parts of the country, and I’m looking forward to see how that goes, as well. Reading their writing is a daily inspiration…. and it makes me think. Everyone has to come out about something, and everyone transitions. As the Eleventh Doctor put it so perfectly, we all change, when you think about it. We are all different people all through our lives and that’s okay, that’s good you’ve got to keep moving- so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I do remember, both with others and myself, iterations long-term friends invariably experience.

Of course, the biggest transition is within me, and not because it’s noteworthy, but because it’s mine.

My friend James and I were talking about that last night (I put James’ real name in here when I’m talking about him because he searches every post for his name #shoutout). We were talking about the arc of this web site, and how it’s changed over the years. How it’s more egocentric, and that’s a good thing…. that people come here to learn about me. That line made me feel shy and vulnerable, but in a good way. He also said that I was more interesting than Argo and Dana, and I thought, hmmmm….. I’m not doing a very good job of writing about them, then……. mostly in deferential humor, but I knew what he meant.

I do have a habit of thinking that most people are more interesting than me….. and in both Argo and Dana’s cases, if you met them you’d probably like them better. Most of the time, I do. But the real reason I write about my reactions to other people is that it’s my brain trying to figure me out by the way I move in the world, both for good and for awesome. I know I’ve said this fifty times by now, but this blog means more to me in terms of being able to look back than it ever will in terms of gaining readership. It is a constant reminder of how far I’ve come and how far I still have to go, never reaching perfection, yet striving for excellence.

I don’t always have inspiration for writing, so entries are uneven. The important thing is that I keep plugging away. As I was telling my housemate earlier, writing is only about 10 percent talent. I’m a writer because I write. It’s tautology and it’s truth. Ira Glass said something similar about the key to being good at something is being crappy at it first…. and to not be discouraged by first efforts.

I am normally not this driven if I’m bad at something. I am generally embarrassed when I don’t know something. But this is different. I don’t start an entry thinking about you. I start an entry thinking about me and what I will want to remember later.

I will never want to forget my experiences- the extreme highs and lows of the last few years, even when something I read makes me cringe and/or cry…. because when I reread old entries, I remember what it was like to be that version of me.

Without this space, I would forget much more easily.

I’m transitioning.

Sermon for Proper 10, Year A: Seeds and Stems

Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Sperm is often called “seed,” especially in the Bible. Therefore, every single one of us starts out as a seed, and when, joined with an egg, takes root in the womb and stems outward. A lot of our personality is created when seeds become stems  and stems become branches and branches become the mature tree… a new person, ready to take on the world.

But have you ever stopped to wonder how the DNA handed down to you affects the type of roots you create? What kind of seed you might be? Do you consistently seek out people who you deem “in the same garden?”

The types of seeds that Jesus is talking about directly relate to personalities in people, and he says so directly when he’s explaining what he just said. This is because often, when Jesus uses an analogy while preaching, and even in just talking to his disciples, what he receives is a series of dumb looks.

This is not unusual even today, because without repetitive explanation, people get lost in their own minds and now have no idea what you’re saying. The best preaching advice I’ve ever gotten is, “first, you tell them. Next, you tell them again. Then you tell them again.” Of course, you use different illustrations, but they’re all the same point.

When people are firmly planted in their pews, completely tracking with you, they may not get the idea of repetition. People who are not often need it. As a preacher, I am competing with the personal stories that come up for the people listening, what to have for lunch, and, especially in Portland, a sunny day.

It’s the difference between how the seeds are planted, and what kind of personalities they create.

We can even expand past the personal to the local church. Are you invested with deep roots, or did your mother make you come? It’s at this point that we have to ask ourselves “are we the 30, the 60, or the 100-fold kind of church?”

What kind of church ARE we?

Are we so shallow in our commitment that a bird could swallow us up? That it would take so little to make us disband? We have nourished the bird, but have failed ourselves in a “give a man a fish” kind of way. We’ve sustained, for a moment, one being… and walked away. The gospel competes with the world, and loses… badly.

Have we planted ourselves on rocky soil, reaching for the sun? The best analogy I can think for this kind of church are those that initially are so gung ho that they over-commit, and six or 12 months later, leave, never to return… because it’s just so much work. Few can let go and listen because the running tab of things to do is so long, particularly for “the Marthas…” who place very little importance on the phrase don’t just do something, sit there.

Initial excitement in its exuberance is a wonderful thing, but it has to be watered carefully, as not to burn or drown. There is generally little room to add new crops, because people are already so mired between committees and choirs and teaching Sunday School and laying out vestments and ALL THE THINGS that new shoots spring up, and there’s no one with enough sunlight left to tend to them. The gospel just gets in the way of the running to-do list with no respite.

Churches with deep roots are not only self-sustaining, but have the ability to minister to others… and it’s a difference you can both see and feel. Deep roots mean there’s a group of people for each single thing, so that no one group has to do everything. The same 30 or 60 people are not the entire church, but just the choir or just a couple of committees. If you’ve ever been to a really small church, you know that there are at least ten people who are on every committee and in the choir, and have to say “no more.” Not out of malice, out of exhaustion. There are churches with deep roots who have the ability to create a committee just to shake new people’s hands as they come in the door, and that is their only function. There is enough room between rows, enough nutrients for everyone, that the seeds become stems and the stems become branches and the branches become the mature tree. The gospel is not working at us, but through us. We are able to welcome the stranger, give to the poor, fight racial inequality and GLBTQI rights… we have the ability to widen the net, teaching others to fish as we go.

Which invariably leads to the question of what kind of world we want to be.

For a lot of people, it’s starting to feel like being a 100-fold seed in a 30-fold world. But here’s the catch… it’s not a 30-fold seed world. Perception is not reality. There are enough people to do everything, enough people to be able to pick which causes to support, which battles to fight… and which governments need resistance. Resistance is not futile, it’s its own kind of protest.

Hundred-fold people create hundred-fold churches which give the individual a chance to grow into a community. So many people can and will get involved, but are overwhelmed when it comes to how to “jump in.” They are the hope and the future as to how a 30-fold seed can find its way from feeding one being to all of them.

This is where you are issued an invitation, in turn to give one. In my own life, I have never once had success with inviting someone to come with me to church. I have had success with showing them who I am and to whom I belong. For instance, I’ve invited friends to march with me in the Pride parade along with my church group…. or go to a political rally. Wide-eyed, they look at me as if to say, your church does THAT?

Of course. In a church with deep roots, the plants grow toward the sky, because the deeper the support system, the easier it is to say…

Jesus Has Left the Building.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces